22 C
City of Banjul
Sunday, February 28, 2021

Dr Owl’s Song

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An old man came to town

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Dressed in screaming leaves

His talk was a mumble

But his eyes were burning

He said he was a prophet

Sent to people of the land

Who live in error manifest

But he only saw funny men in blue 

Latticed him in a net

Who threw a million stars at him

And dragged him through the

Cobbled streets of the town…

 

Strange words, I did not understand. Having grown up on the “If I have a bag of money…” stupid lyrics of Youssou N’Dour and the “Salifu Jaiteh, son of Arafang Karamo Jaiteh, father of Majula Jaiteh…ting…ting…ting…” blank lines of Jaliba Kuyateh, I couldn’t appreciate any cacophony of a canticle except it be sweet and silly.

But like Kant, the more seriously my reflection concentrates on the caged bird, my wonder and awe became ever new and increasing. I saw that although it was singing, it was in fact uncaged, had big sad eyes and was snowy white. In my years of nomadic foray into the literature of foreign lands, I had read Maya Angelou’s I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings but I have not read anywhere why uncaged birds sing. And what bird is this? Certainly it is not the most regal of birds, the kumareh, and certainly it is not the nightingale or even the lyre bird. In fact it has the coarsest voice, only comparable to the Qur’anic ass or the bats of hell. It could only have been an owl.

 

Huh! The mist began to clear, yeah, for the owl speaks not in the simple tongue of Youssou or Jaliba. Its wisdom is encompassing as the breadth of its big eyes and its enunciation Cooke-ishly solemn.

The owl:

 

You wrapped up in your mantle, arise and warn…

 

Where was that from, I asked myself. It was not original. Cursed Plagiarist! I swore, but the owl cut in:

 

Do not curse, listen!

Cleanse your mind 

For the medium has to be fit 

For the message. 

Arise and warn and fear not a soul 

For you have the Word

And the Word is Truth!

In the beginning,

In the hour of Dikay,

There was the Word.

In the hour of Appai,

There is still the word.

And in the hour of The One

Who will come after Appai,

There will still be the Word.

The Word has been eclipsed

But it will always be there.

 

Oh God! I screamed, like Thomas Moore to his daughter Alice, I told the owl with the forbidden face, “I am not the material of which martyrs are made.” I am a plain Domori Foday, paid to correct the foibles of the errant pens of those more knowledgeable than me.

The owl:

 

Cut it, cut it!

False humility, false fears

Haven’t you learnt 

From the Unlettered Bedouin

That speaking the Word

Before a tyrant is a greater jihad?

And remember, everything

From cockroaches to kings

Will come to an end.

All save the Face of Allah.

So, go to the land and tell King Appai

And his people the gods are weeping.

 

When did owls become spokesthings for the gods, I wondered. Truly, the end times are nigh. My poor soul!

 

Tell King Appai that he and his people 

Above all others were granted

The greatest of favours, peace.

 

I was relieved that the moronic diction of the owl was coming to an end… But then it cut in:

 

Listen, do not think, just listen!

Tell Appai, the gods sent him,

As a messiah of the Great Society

A savant servant, no king 

Tell him to sell and give

To the poor of the land

The big gowns and gilded throne 

Tell Appai, the gods sent him 

A calabash, not a sjambok

A giver of sweetened meat

And honeyed bread 

Not a pharaoh bearing whips

Let him apply the kerr-seh

We have given him 

Let him bring back 

The many who have fled

Let him give back the seized homes

Stop the commissions

For their purpose and intent are now of 

Lesser value than tobacco smoke

Let him open the door

To those knocking 

Tell Appai that he’s a father

Not to two offspring

But a million children 

Let him be wary 

Of fair-weather friends 

Those givers of ill advice. 

Tell Appai his people are in ‘Amistad’

They cry freedom, we give it to him

To give to them, let him!

 Tell him not to read the horoscopes

Of the future, rather let him read

The lips and eyes of his people.

We sent him into a barren land –

Sandy, barren and bare

But we do not want it 

Watered with blood,

We want it watered 

With the soft dew of mercy.

Let him remember

Green is his colour

Red is for others 

Let him kiss the ground

Indeed shall we exalt those 

Who lower themselves

And give them wisdom galore

Like we gave to David and Solomon

Who ruled in their youth.

We know the secrets buried in his heart

Tell King Appai, in our full lines

Are wisdom for him, let him read

In the name of a future without shadows…

 

The owl hooted in its coarse voice, fluttered its wings and flew into the endless grey horizon of my dream. Nothing was left but the effigy of Munch’s Screamer, standing in the desolation of Guernica. I was left shaking like a leaf hit by a gust of wind.

I wondered how an owl, even at the peak of its lucidity, could ever possess such oceanic wisdom. 

But who are these gods who sent him? And wouldn’t King Appai cut off my head if I like Joseph to the pharaoh, tried to interpret to him the meaning of the full lines of this song of an owl?  

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